Great Curassow and 9 more life birds at La Gamba


Entrance to Estación Biológica La Gamba; note the luxuriant vegetation behind!

Friend Armin Dett (find him at is a highly talented graphic designer with a strong background in the natural sciences. When he was invited by the University of Vienna to undertake a study and produce a book on the moths of the tropical research station at La Gamba, near Golfito here in Costa Rica, I was fortunate enough to be able to escort him and spend three days there. For those who read German, here is the link to their website:  Not only did I get to help capture moths at night using ultraviolet light, but I also walked the nearby beautiful forest trails of the Piedras Blancas National Park. Were it not for the sticky tropical climate of the lowlands I would be highly tempted to live in that southern Pacific region of the country.

If you simply want to see the list of species for this excursion, you will find it at the end of this post, which deals almost exclusively with the birds and in any case would never be able to do justice to the interest and beauty of La Gamba and the surrounding area.

Here is the cabin where we stayed:

Our humble abode!

Our humble abode!

If there’s a signature bird here at La Gamba it has to be the Great Curassow (Crax rubra), the first of my life birds on this trip. Imagine simply the picture above with a male and a female strolling across in front, and Armin and me relaxing on the veranda. Photos from the trip will come later when Armin finishes his assignment at the end of the month. He cannot get his email account going from there.

Several birds were taken in a mist net by researcher Tobias, who was netting Cherrie’s tanagers for a study on grasshoppers, of which, apparently, they are inordinately fond.

Here too is the link to the adjacent Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, where the management was most kind and helpful and allowed us access to their grounds, which harbour at least three species of kingfisher that didn’t make my list.

Some comments on the birds observed:

  • The Gray-chested dove is a definite misnomer. I was expecting confusion with the White-tipped dove but this bird is unmistakeable because of the delicate pink, diffused crown. What an unexpected beauty!
Gray-chested dove, courtesy of Karel Straatman

Gray-chested dove, courtesy of Karel Straatman

  • The Charming hummingbird is an understatement. It’s a superb little bird that we saw at very close range at the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge feeding on rabo de gato. The crown and breast colours are much more than charming.
  • Two new woodpecker species for me, the Red-rumped being a rare species according to Garrigues and Dean, a new edition of whose bird guide is now available.
  • Antbirds are usually the bane of my existence because I never see them. Thus I was particularly pleased to be able to identify four different species, including two life birds; the female Dot-winged antwren is particularly lovely.
Female Dot-winged Antwren, courtesy of Karel Straatman

Female Dot-winged Antwren, courtesy of Karel Straatman

Can’t resist adding Karel Straatman’s great shot of a Black-hooded Antshrike:

I'd seen the male Black-hooded antshrike before, but never so well

I’d seen the male Black-hooded antshrike before, but never so well

  • I was happy to identify immediately and correctly the Northern (previously Thrushlike) schiffornis, which I had never seen before. It perched rather glumly on a small branch right in front of us.
  • The Black-bellied wren, though common in this area, was new to me. It’s an endemic here and in western Panama and is striking because of its pure white throat.
  • The Black-cheeked ant-tanager is a Costa Rican endemic with a very reduced range; I saw only a male.
  • On the other hand, I saw only a female of my first Blue-black grosbeak; this finch is at home in thick forest it seems, but I was quite surprised to find it there on the La Fila Trail.

My list includes only sure identifications; I missed many more! My life birds are marked with an asterisk.

  1. Great tinamou (voice only)
  2. Great curassow*
  3. Gray-headed chachalaca
  4. Crested guan
  5. Neotropic cormorant (Río Térraba)
  6. Bare-throated tiger-heron
  7. Great egret
  8. Cattle egret
  9. Green heron
  10. White ibis
  11. Green ibis
  12. Black vulture
  13. Turkey vulture
  14. Roadside hawk
  15. Crested caracara (near Palmar)
  16. Yellow-headed caracara
  17. Gray-necked wood-rail
  18. White-throated crake (voice only)
  19. Purple gallinule
  20. Northern jaçana
  21. Pale-vented pigeon
  22. Ruddy ground-dove
  23. White-tipped dove
  24. Gray-chested dove*
  25. Orange-chinned parakeet
  26. White-crowned parrot
  27. Red-lored parrot
  28. Smooth-billed ani
  29. Common pauraque
  30. White-collared swift
  31. Stripe-throated hermit
  32. Long-billed hermit
  33. Charming hummingbird*
  34. Rufous-tailed hummingbird
  35. Violet-headed hummingbird
  36. Gartered trogon (voice only)
  37. Belted kingfisher
  38. Chestnut-mandibled toucan
  39. Golden-naped woodpecker*
  40. Red-crowned woodpecker
  41. Red-rumped woodpecker*
  42. Streak-headed woodcreeper
  43. Black-hooded antshrike
  44. Dusky antbird*
  45. Bare-crowned antbird* (male)
  46. Dot-winged antwren (females)
  47. Yellow tyrannulet
  48. Greenish elaenia
  49. Common tody-flycatcher
  50. Ochre-bellied flycatcher
  51. Bright-rumped attila (voice only)
  52. Western wood-pewee (voice also)
  53. Yellow-bellied flycatcher (mist net)
  54. Great crested flycatcher
  55. Great kiskadee
  56. Social flycatcher
  57. Gray-capped flycatcher
  58. Tropical kingbird
  59. Northern schiffornis*
  60. Orange-collared manakin (wing pops)
  61. Red-capped manakin
  62. Yellow-throated vireo
  63. Mangrove swallow (Río Térraba)
  64. Barn swallow
  65. Riverside wren
  66. Plain wren
  67. Black-bellied wren*
  68. House wren
  69. Clay-colored thrush
  70. Tennessee warbler
  71. Golden-winged warbler
  72. Yellow warbler
  73. Chestnut-sided warbler
  74. Black-and-white warbler
  75. Mourning warbler
  76. Bananaquit
  77. Black-cheeked ant-tanager* (male)
  78. Summer tanager
  79. Cherrie’s tanager
  80. Blue-gray tanager
  81. Palm tanager
  82. Green honeycreeper (female, mist net)
  83. Variable seedeater
  84. Blue-black grassquit
  85. Black-striped sparrow
  86. Buff-throated saltator
  87. Blue-black grosbeak* (female)
  88. Baltimore oriole
  89. Scarlet-rumped cacique
  90. Yellow-billed cacique
  91. Yellow-crowned euphonia

This is a provisional posting until Armin is able to supply me with photos from the trip.

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